Monday, February 27, 2006

Wanted: the courage to explore new ideas.

  Posted by Picasa We all know that Christopher Columbus had the courage to sail in to the unknown and ‘discover’ the Americas. What is not so well known is his discovery allowed European cultures to ‘gather’ the resources to enable them to revive their failing economies.

What we need now – now that the world natural resources have all but been despoiled, is to leave the well known tracks and have the courage to develop some new ideas of how to develop a sustainable world as there are few natural resources left to discover that will save us.

Wouldn’t it be great if New Zealand were to lead the way? The problem is since 1984 the world wide epidemic of monetarist 'market forces' has captured the minds of our politicians and the chance of new ideas emerging is going to be difficult. Today short term greedy self interest infects us all as we turn a blind eye to the disastrous effects we are collectively are having on our environment. The greedy lack of ethics of the business world rule almost unchallenged and politicians are to busy softening the effects of ‘right wing’ thinking to think of real alternatives.

And this is all the more difficult in New Zealand because, since 1984, our country has been seen a ‘leader’ in implementing the ‘market forces’ mentality, dismantling everything in its way to create efficiency and wealth for the few.

As a result we now have a society of a few winners and lots of losers and the gap widens everyday, and this is ‘echoed’ throughout the world – where a few people own more than some countries and there are more people in the world starving than ever before!

Add to this the inevitable end of ‘big oil’, the effects of man-made climatic changes, and world overpopulation, which currently stands at 6 billion – the last 200 million arriving the past 3 years, and we are all in big trouble.

In the meantime we wait vainly in hope for the myth of progress to solve the problems for us.

Some courageous thinking is required not collective blindness!

New Zealand, a country with the least spoiled natural environment (which says something for the other countries) could take the lead to develop a new vision; a new sense of direction; a vision one that could inspire other countries to put a sustainability ethic above national or financial interests.

I guess you would have to be a supreme optimist to believe our current politicians could rise to the occasion but if they did what a great opportunity.

At the very least the government could start the debate about the kind of country ‘we’ want to be; what is the collective identity we want to develop for ourselves; how do we want to be seen? Maybe this could be introduced as part of republican debate or even a new flag?

Democracy, as we currently experience it, is a ‘thin’ experience. We need to debate how we can develop a more expansive form of democracy by pushing responsibility down to community levels leaving the ‘big picture’ for the national government? And we need to debate the need to value our cultural diversity – we are no longer a British Colony in the South Pacific!

We also need to debate as to what values should underpin our society to replace the individualism, the corrosive hedonism and greed, that seems to be the current ethic? There must be more to life than market forces and materialism? Certainly we need something to replace the powerlessness and alienation that too many current citizens currently feel.

How can we redesign education, welfare and local government so that they provide personalized services, placing responsibity in the hands of the people concerned – and in this process develop new helping roles for those who provide the services?

For our economic survival what do we need to produce as a country? In a world of low cost mass produced goods we need to tap into every person’s innate creativity to develop well designed imaginative products. How can we lead in the area of developing sustainable industries?

How can we transform education to play a central role in developing all students’ talents and love of learning so as to develop inventive, caring and creative citizens?

The answers to such ideas provide an opportunity to shape our own destiny – rather than being passively shaped by globalization, ‘market forces’ and other outside influences.

It would seem to me that by having such conversation, and by spreading such ideas, New Zealand could become a world leader?

Monday, February 20, 2006

The Big Picture

 The myth of progressPosted by Picasa This book by Ronald Wright is one everyone should read.

After hearing the author discuss his ideas on National Radio (Canadian Massey Lectures) I was tempted to buy the book from Amazon; it was well worth it!

If you want the big picture about the history of human civilization, and a pessimist but realistic criticism of the myth that technological progress will solve our current problems, this is the book for you.

It is a mind changing read. Wright is a respected historical philosopher with an easy writing style with ‘a profound understanding of other cultures’.

His book is written around the three questions artist Paul Gauguin expressed in one his last major paintings: ‘Where do we come from? What are we? And where do we go from here?’ Gauguin, after fleeing from a depressing European industrial society, was in the end disenchanted himself with the ideal society he believed existed in the South Pacific.

But the questions he asked, Wright believes, are even more valid today. Where are we going is the key question and Wright believes the answers lies in the history of previous, now crumbled, civilizations. And he believes we will suffer the same fate unless we learn lessons from the past; he not hopeful.

History, as the cliché goes, repeats itself and each time with greater destructive impact. With our blind faith in progress ‘we’ believe thus will not happen to us. In earlier days a civilization could collapse without impacting greatly on other cultures. Today if Western civilization were to collapses the fate of humankind would be at risk. The planet will continue to evolve with us!

The problem is what Wright calls the ‘progress trap’ which, as a result of technological advances, cultures eventually consume all their resource and literally fall apart – victims of their own success.

Advanced technology, from the earliest days, is a double edged sword enabling man to grow and consume more than can be supported; that growth creates its own problems. Today resources are being consumed in a way, and technology so powerful, that there is a very real possibility that the 10000 year experiment of civilization could come to and end. ‘We are clever devils’, Wright quotes, ‘but seldom wise’.

Technological advances has seen the world population expand from 200 million at the height of the Roman Empire ( 200AD); 400 by 1500; 1 billion by 1825; 2 billion by 1925; 6 billion by 2000 .The last 200 million took only three years, and, although the rate is slowing, it will reach 9 million by 2080. And as well there is more poverty in the word today than at any earlier time.

Sustaining the world’s resources is the vital issue of the future. Wright believes we now have the means to share world resources wisely, to clean up pollution, to provide better health for all, and most importantly to set economic limits in line with natural ones.

This is he believes, ‘our last chance to get it right.’ But he is not altogether optimistic as we seem to have learnt little from the lessons of the past. He quotes that Hitler once gleefully exclaimed, ‘What luck for rulers that people do not think’ and Wright adds, ‘What can we do when rulers will not think’?

The current materialistic ‘Market Forces’ mentality is destroying the resources of the world and, as Wright explains in his book, every empire finally fails because it despoiled its environment. The simplest and clearest example of this, he writes about, is Easter Island where, in the process of erecting monumental carvings, they felled all their trees. Easter Island is an isolated metaphor for the price cultures pay for ‘progress’. With our advanced technology and greed , and our false hope that progress will solve all our current problems, all the worlds civilizations are now at risk.

There is hope, Wright says, but only if: we change our minds about the myth of progress; learn from the failures of earlier civilizations; and learn to protect the environment that sustains us. He writes that it is up to us develop a sustainability consciousnesses about our world so as ‘to shape it and look after it’.

Developing this consciousness ought to be the vital role of our education system?

A powerful read.

Saturday, February 18, 2006

Learning through confusion.

  Posted by Picasa The challenge of being a new principal.

Starting a new job as a school principal is an important event but it can also be a confusing time for all. All too often the new principal rides into town, like the Lone Ranger, to solve all problems.

The simple truth is that is all too easy to start off on the wrong foot due to a lack of appreciation of the reality of the situation added to by the often confusing agenda of those involved in the school.

New beginnings are difficult in any organization because of inflated expectations of the new leader and conflicting demands of those who made the appointment. A number of mixed messages can easily occur as new leaders are expected to act quickly while at the same time they are not quite sure who to trust; what to continue with and what to change. All too often new appointees pretend to look as of they know what they are doing while at the same time drowning on events.

This can easily lead to exhaustion, stress and a ‘fighting fires’ approach.

On good idea to avoid this situation and to use this confusion to your advantage is to create an Entry Plan so that rather than hitting the school running you can hit it learning. A well thought out Entry Plan gives the new leader time to build relationships with all the key people involved and signals the type of leadership you want to develop.

An Entry Plan is premised on utilizing the confusion of the transition period by using it as creative starting point for learning. It is a plan structured to enable joint inquiry prior to making any changes and allows the new leader to use the process to uncover current strengths and possible new directions.

The plan is designed to slow things down so the appointee can learn about the deeper culture of the school and to develop collective approach to developing new directions.

The first step is to draft ideas about an Entry Plan to share with the BOT and the staff; this draft plan outlines who the new leader will meet, about what, when, where, and why. The most important things is to define the most important questions and issues as you see them you want to explore with them and to indicate that no major changes will be made until all the information form the Entry Plan has been processed. This will let all involved know that they will all have a chance to have their say.

It would be a good idea to share the draft with key people before you make it public. They may have ideas that would be useful before you make your final plan.

The final Entry Plan should include a statement outlining the point and purpose of the plan – the process, and what it is hoped it will deliver.

Following the discussion with key people and meetings with the BOT and staff, which will possibly uncover new questions for you to consider, the leader draws up the findings and challenges ahead for the school.

The key issues and findings are then presented back to the BOT and staff to gain further input. At this stage there ought to be no expectation to gain consensus.

At the end of the process the principal draws up a future School Development Plan that lists the actions that will need to be taken or researched. A useful idea would be to set up a School Development Team to share responsibity for implementing the plan.

As a result of this process the BOT and staff make decisions to put into practices areas of agreement and to instigate ‘action research’ to explore other issues.

At this point, by taking ones time to work through the confusion, all involved will begin to appreciate the empowering leadership style implied in the approach and that the responsibly for action involves everyone.

The whole point of the Entry Plan is to develop a common understanding of the reality and challenges ahead but most of all to develop a ‘we are all in this together’ attitude.

The process begins with the acknowledgment of confusion of a new beginnings; it challenges current assumptions, and ends up with agreed action plans to ensure new ways of thinking are translated into new behaviors.

Such an Entry Plan has the potential to position new leaders for success right from the start by establishing a culture of self examination and it develops a leadership approach which is both ‘top down’ and ‘bottom up’.

And through this process a new vision for the school can be forged.

Worth a try?

At the very least a good idea is to develop a ‘Position Paper’ outlining the new principal’s views on all issues because this at least will let the staff no where you are coming from!

Friday, February 17, 2006

Power of Vision, Mission and alignment

  Posted by Picasa There seems to be a lot of confusion around about what exactly are vision and missions, how are they different, and even if they are worth the effort?

I think this has occurred because missions were imposed on many organizations and were done as form of compliance. As a result they may have lost whatever prestige they may have had. Often they not even able to be articulated, let alone actioned, by staff members!

If schools are in this situation perhaps it is time for them to reflect about what their schools stands for and to ‘revision’ it’s purpose. To do this properly all in the school need to be involved if it to be actioned. If it doesn’t’ attract the ‘hearts and minds’ of all as worthwhile why would they bother?

There are too many examples of highly successful organizations that have tapped the power of a shared vision to dismiss the idea. Toyota is but one example that exemplifies what it means to pull together under a single vision and mission. Such organizations are not only focused on the future they are equally focused on creating the conditions for future growth within – they are, to use another maligned idea, a ‘learning organization’.

Visions are often reduced to a memorable phrase, or metaphor but without action they are only dreams. And the dream must connect emotionally with all those who are involved in the organization and not be the product of a few selected thinkers. Often the vision will ‘emerge’ as part of the process of ‘visioning’.

Visions are often followed by a statement outlining agreed Core Values and Beliefs

Vision by itself is not enough, you also have to know how to get there and this is the mission – and from the mission flow actions, goals, strategies and professional development.

The Mission Statement outlines what the organization does to realize its vision.

All the above need not be more than a page or so – there is no advantage it seems in wordy documents

Alignment is vital. Alignment is where vision meets reality. Alignment is the secret ingredient that holds any enterprise together as in a good football team. In any game the vision is to win, and the mission is to win with the mix of talents and skills that the players possess. And when things ‘click’ you have alignment.

But at the same time, paradoxically, an organization has to listen to those with contrary views and be open to new ideas if it is to grow. And new ideas often come from the edge!

The leader’s role in a modern organization is to keep the vision, the picture of the ideal future, clear in everyone’s mind, and to create the conditions to make use of all the talents of staff members. This involves negotiating core beliefs and expectations with everyone to define the boundaries within which staff members can exercise their individual creativity.

In the school setting this equally applies to every individual teacher and their students.

Leadership at all levels is vital to ensure to the integrity of the organization, as determined by the vision, is kept to the forefront. Without leadership organizations too easily lose their sense of direction and purpose and become wound up in processes and procedures. When the focus of vision is lost organisations become controlled by regulations and compliance. This can also happen when imposed targets are set, as worthy as they are, that replace the vision as the priority. The targets may well be achieved but often at the sacrifice of the philosophy and beliefs of those involved.

Vision can also be lost when accountability measures inadvertently make people focus on easily achieved results at the expense of the visionary aspirations. Too few measures focus on the important aspects of life and learning – on the core beliefs, philosophy and relationships that are so important in any organizations.

When vision is lost the status quo reigns and a conformist compliance non risk culture is established – and this leads to the death of any organization. In a frenetic world of fast unpredictable changes and imposed expectations it is all too easy to lose track of the big picture.

When organizations are clear about the direction they want to go in, are aware of the challenges, and are clear about what they have to do, open to new ideas, a learning culture is established.

Culture is what holds a ‘learning organization’ together, not rules and regulations. The stronger the culture the more the people will get behind the vision. Culture counts. It defines ‘what is important around here’; what behaviors are, or are not, accepted. It is the sum of the norms, behaviors, guidelines and values held by any organization. It is about how we treat people.

As the vision defines where we want to go, the mission what we do, the culture defines who we are.

Like vision culture cannot be imposed from the top – both are ongoing interrelated processes. Lasting commitment evolves when everybody has been involved in setting the direction and mission of the school. Ownership is vital – people generally support what they have had a hand in developing. Compliance comes from being told what to do; commitment comes from a shared vision.

And the measure of all alignment should be against the vision. If people get behind the vision there is a good chance of success. There will always be resistance and challenges but if the vision is inspirational they will be reduced to experiences to learn from

It is the power of alignment behind the shared vision, mision, values and beliefs that drive the learning process forwards.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Inspired by Albert Einstein

 Posted by Picasa Einstein is an individual whose thinking changed the world putting paid to the fixed measured world of Newton with his theory of relativity.

It is interesting that he is another who had a shaky start in formal education. He wrote that it was a miracle that modern education had not altogether killed the magic power of a childs sense of wonder. His concern continues to this day with our system's obsessive focus on fragmented student’s achievement rather than developing a learner's curiosity, talents and, most of all, a passion for learning; all to hard to measure I guess.

'Imagination is more important than knowledge' Einstein

Learners are curious. To be the best you have to be curious about everything and take nothing for granted. Einstein described himself as ‘neither especially clever nor especially gifted, I am only very, very curious.’

It is this curiosity, this sense of wonder, that our education system should protect above all other objectives otherwise it is only ‘schooling’ or training. Most education ends up as schooling; jumping through prescribed hoops and measuring how far you can jump.

Education has lost the big picture that so impressed Einstein. Rather than the exciting pursuit of the strange, the challenging, the interesting, it is now all about ‘evidence based teaching’ and an obsession with detail, measurement and data collection. And to make it worse data collection which excludes the very curiosity and imagination that drives true learning.

'It would be possible to descibe everything scientifically, but it would make no sense, it would be without meaning, as if you described a Beethoven symphony as a variation of wave pressure' Einstein

Education has been taken over by a ‘metric mania’ – measuring and graphing, and graphing that is made worse by the misuse of the power of the computer. ‘Data, data, everywhere and not thought to think’! Learning is about working at the edge of ones competence no matter the age of the learner.

Looking at numbers and data is not what education is all about no matter what the technocrats think. It is more a about a relationship between the learner, the teacher and some exciting content that has captured the learners imagination. Without this relationship knowledge is trivial, or inert, useful only to prove you have achieved some prescribed level or other. Learning isn’t above incremental change, achieved in isolated subjects, it is about individual leaps of the imaginations new ideas are comprehended.

And what count the cost of all the time wasted in compiling these irrelevant reports of bland achievement? How many students leave our system with their learning per intact is more to the point?

'As far as the laws of mathematics refer to reality, they are not certain, as far as they certain they do not refer to reality.' Einstein

Learning is a search to make meaning – about seeing connections and being curious about the mysteries that life throws in our way. It is not about consuming little bits and pieces without being aware of the big picture.

Learning is about finding about things that we don’t know; about things that are meaningful to us. Once we are aware of a problem then we need to do the thinking and the research and to express what it is we have found in whatever way is appropriate.

How this can be planned and assessed by distant experts without losing the spirit of learning is beyond me.

We should instead focus on what inspired Einstein.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Evolutionary thoughts!

 Posted by Picasa Charles Darwin born Feb 13 1809

Charles Darwin is one individual that changed how we think about ourselves forever.

He hardly had an auspicious start in life which is reassuring for those who have yet to discover their destiny. Darwin however might not agree with the idea of destiny!

Having achieved little of note he joined the crew of the 'H M S 'Beagle' in his late twenties. During this journey he put together his thoughts that were later to be published as the ‘Origins of the Species.’ While other scientists were busy collecting and classifying things Darwin was more concerned with relationship between animals he observed and earlier forms.

What he worked out, based on his observation, has forever changed how we see human life. Up until this point the world was believed to have unfolded according to God’s plan but Darwin reduced mankind to just another successful species evolving from earlier ape like forms – and even more worrying that mankind was just another species that would continue to evolve by chance and mutation.

The thought of an accidental evolution, separate from all an guiding and powerful god, worried Darwin as well and he was reluctant to publish his findings for fear of ridicule. He finally published his seminal book before another naturalist (Wallace) published similar thoughts.

If you believed in Darwin’s theory then you had to believe that mankind (particularly Europeans) had no superior God given rights. To this day there are those who refuse to accept such ideas. Many American Schools have been forced to include in their 'science' teaching a pre –Darwinian alternative theory called ‘Intelligent Design’.

And as well, if you believe in Darwin, mankind does not have a guaranteed future having only been around a mere 10000 years – a mere blink in the history of our planet. Dinosaurs lasted longer!

Mankind is currently doing a great job of despoiling the resources of the planet we live on. Part of the myth of western civilization is a belief that progress will solve all problems. Today some believe in what is often called ‘social Darwinism, the rule of ‘tooth an claw’, based on survival of the fittest. Darwin’s theory favoured survival of the adaptable and the flexible, not the biggest and greediest. Successful species often arise from odd but successful mutants; strange, small, hairy manuals eventfully replaced the dinosaurs and some evolved into early humans.

Mankind has no guarantee of survival but the world will continue to evolve with or without them.This is Darwin's legacy.

We have the power to destroy the resources of the world and today this is a real possibility. As Thomas Huxley wrote many years ago ‘Where is the man that has so much that he is out of danger?’

A belief in progress may be our final undoing unless we develop new ecological mindsets to match Darwin’s insights. We have a lot to learn from the indigenous cultures that have learnt, through experience, to live in harmony with their environments.

New sustainability orientated mindsets will be needed; transformed schools based on developing such future focused students could be the solution.

So far it has been too much hoping for the best and not enough facing up to the worst.

We are running out of time.

A great site to study Darwin

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Observation - a basic learning skill

 Posted by Picasa Observation as a skill is hardly taken seriously in our print orientated schools.

Too many teachers forget that the language facility schools value so much develops naturally before school as a bi- product of conversations with others and through a curiosity open to exploring the environment through the senses.

School need to tap into student's curiosity and need to express ideas. It is this sensory resource of impressions that is called upon by learners when they come to read. Better still such experiences inspire students to talk, draw, write and then to read their own ideas. Before the word the experience is a simple enough idea - the more you notice the more words and ideas you will develop.

So looking and noticing, and wanting to find out about things, and express what is found out, are the real basics of learning.

Creative teachers who focus on uncovering and expanding student’s natural talents value observation. Such teachers take students into the environment to help them further develop their sensory awareness. They help their students take their time to see things, to notice patterns, movements, colours, and to observe small moments of drama that nature provides.

Both in the field, and back in class, students can record their impressions through words, drawing and these days with digital cameras. Learners will need assistance to be able to do this but most of all they need to be with teachers who exemplify this kind of awareness and who model the kind of imaginative responses their students will come to reflect.

It is such experiences that keep studnets ‘learning spirit’ and ‘sense of wonder’ alive.

Observation of and expression about the natural world is the basis of literacy and imagination.

Learning to observe through drawing is a great way to start. All that is needed is to get students to ‘slow the pace of their work’, to take the time to look, and to draw what they see, continually looking back to the item being drawn to keep the image alive. The simple strategy is to ‘look, draw, look’. To start choose simple items or get students to focus on interesting aspects and use small pieces of paper; later ideas can be enlarged and coloured.

Observational drawings (every child’s interpretation will be different - or ought to be) can be later extended into the imagination and, through use of metaphor, interesting language ideas can be encouraged. And, as well, questions will emerge for students to research and read about.

When displayed students work will celebrate their ideas, observation and imagination.

All too often, in our mad rush to get students to read, we bi-pass this natural basis for learning and we demean our students in the process

For practical ideas:

Developing environmental awareness
The environment as a learning resource
The drawing process
Slowing the pace

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

What was the best thing you did in the holidays?

 Posted by Picasa Reclaiming the power of writing.

It is a cliché about school that the first task teachers give their students is to write an essay about ‘What you did in the holidays’!

Few teachers today would think of doing such a thing. This is a shame because their students have just returned from having a range of experiences that they were fully involved in and that will remain with them for their lives.

We are the stories we tell about ourselves. Stories contribute to our identity and sense of self. What did you do in your holidays we ask others and most of us are happy to tell our stories to those who ask.

The trouble comes when we are asked to write out such stories.

With clever teaching this needn’t be the case.

A simple process that many teachers have found useful is to ask their students to share orally in small groups what they got up to and /or to make list or ‘mind map’ of all the sorts of adventures they had. This works best if the teachers model one or two incidents from their own holiday experiences to illustrate that all that is required is a small memorable incident. Model your story: what happened, what you saw, how you felt and talk as if you were there. Make sure they understand what you want is a quality story – a lot about a little not a little about a lot.

After the students have the opportunity to share a few ideas get the students to choose one that would make great idea to share. Get them to imagine that they were back in the experience and then to write what they were thinking at the time, what they saw and felt and what other said. The best writing is if what they write is much as if they talk. Encourage them to start with a powerful first sentence that attracts the reader and also to invent a heading for their story that doesn’t give the game away! After writing a draft they could share in small groups.

Over the next few days students could write out finished copies. Some may be able to use the word processor. Reluctant students, or very young children, might need their thoughts scribed by the teacher; the teacher asking questions and writing responses.

If an illustration is to be added the children need to understand the need to give such a drawing a real focus on the important aspect of their story. They might be able to import a digital photograph of the incident.

The work needs to be valued by the teachers and every week students chosen to share with the class. Perhaps a display of writing could be arranged with a suitable heading ‘Our holiday adventures.’

This writing for its own sake – to tell a personal story but as well such writing could well be the basis of real literacy – reading their own stories; being their own authors but most of all valuing their own sense of voice and identity.

This uis all about helping students see the power of writing!

For ideas about the process.

For themes to help begin the process.

For helping very young children

Monday, February 06, 2006

The Treaty of Waitangi

 Posted by Picasa Today in New Zealand we celebrate the Treaty of Waitangi by having a National holiday.

Tomorrow most students return to school to start a new year. I wonder what their ideas are about the Treaty and its significance for our country? Most probably many will have at best ‘thin’ knowledge of what it all means and many may even have unthinking prejudices passed down to them by adults.

To celebrate the Treaty, or even at least to inform the students so they are better able to comprehend its significance for themselves, it is worth exploring student’s views. The more information ‘we’ can give our students the more likely they will be in a position to begin to make up their own minds.

Even a glance at the Treaty in the illustration above indicates that for many years it played little place in our history.

So what do the students think the Treaty is all about?

What questions do the students have about the Treaty?

After exploring their views ( the answers to their own questions) provide the students will some information about the situation as it existed in New Zealand in 1840 and what the Treaty promised those who signed it.

Schools have plenty of resources to explore to answer their queries.

Discuss how much of the land once owned by Maori has now been lost over the years and in particular how much was confiscated as part of the New Zealand Wars of the 1860s. Many students will have little knowledge of the ‘rich’ history of their own country. Older students could undertake research based on questions that they might think of.

In their study book students could copy out basic information about the Treaty

A study of the Treaty can also inspire the need for the students in the class to negotiate a Class Treaty of the behaviors that they agree to live within during the year. This will possibly give them a better understanding of what a Treaty is all about?

When it all agreed they can draw up a Treaty and all sign it with their names.

This would be an excellent way to start the school year?

Sunday, February 05, 2006

Colour of Summer

 Posted by Picasa

Colourful immigrants

Most schools have access to a piece of waste land or long grass. If they do most possibly there will be plants with bright orange flowers to be found – montbretias. If not teachers could collect several clumps to bring to school.

These introduced flowers represent to many New Zealanders the colour of summer and would make an ideal ‘mini unit’ to begin the school year.

If possible take the class outside to see the plants. Lie down near them and observe them. Get the students just to enjoy the experience through their senses. Encourage them to observe the shapes they can see, the patterns, the colours, the movements, the sounds and how they feel. Encourage them also to use phrases rather than single words. Either collect their ideas from them or they can write them out for themselves.

Back in class get the children to draw the flowers. Encourage them to take their time and look carefully. Give then a narrow piece of paper to draw in the shape of the flower. When they have finished their outline get them to use colored pencils to add colour.

As they draw get them to think of ‘key’ questions that come to mind. Later select out three or four question to research. Some will be answered by the act of observation while others will need resources to find out. Local gardeners may be able to help you.

Montbretias have an interesting history having been introduced into early gardens and then ‘escaping’ to become successful summer weeds.

Display the drawings, the thought poems and research with a heading ‘Colour Of Summer’ on the wall and get the students to copy information into their study books – but only after you have given them some help with design and presentation skills.

Other ideas to start the school year.

Sounds of Summer

 Posted by Picasa Cicadas lined up in my garden.

Tomorrow most New Zealand students return to school to begin the school year.

As they enter their school they will hear the sounds of the cicadas ‘singing’ in the trees.

I wonder what they really know about the insects making the repetitive chorus of song?

It would be fun to take the class outside and to sit under trees to listen to the cicadas. After a while ask the students for thoughts about what they can hear – encourage them to use phrases and record interesting ideas to take back to class. Older students could write out thoughts for themselves. They could also collect whatever questions they might have.

Before returning to class see if the class can find some of the empty ‘shells’ of the cicadas attached to the trunks of trees.

Back in the class the students could draw carefully cicadas from photographs or use the collected shells. This is an opportunity to develop an important message about quality to the class. Ask the students not to rush their drawings, to take their time, to look carefully. All too often students have learnt to rush their work somehow thinking that first finished is best! This ‘slowing the pace’ allows them to be more reflective and for the teacher to have the time to help those children who are struggling.

Using the collected thoughts write a three line poem about the cicadas. One thought about the sounds they can hear; one thought about what is making them; and one thought about how they feel about the sounds- what it makes them think of or feel. It might be best for the teacher to model the process to start the year.

Select out two or three ‘key’ questions and get the students to research them. Before they research any question get them to give you their ‘prior’ understandings so they can later compare how their ideas have changed. In this way you are introducing them to the idea that you value both their questions and ideas. And possibly you will have to learn about cicadas yourself! This is co- constructivism.

As work as completed make a wall display with a heading ‘Sounds of summer’ and add their 'key' questions, the three line poems (simple haiku) and the student’s research.

In the students new study books the students could copy a picture of the cicada and a few facts about them. This is a chance to introduce design and presentation ideas. This could be modelled on the blackboards.

If you don’t already know you will find out with your students that the cicadas have a very interesting life cycle.

Other ideas to begin the school year.